Sort through your fabric stash, because I have the best, easiest, most eco-friendly DIY for you!
Everybody knows that paper napkins are a wasteful use of resources, and we ought to ditch them for mealtimes. But the solution isn’t just to wipe your hands on your pants!
Instead, take a little time and a few fat quarters and sew everyone in your family their own set of cloth napkins. These cloth napkins, sewn from regular quilting cotton, are bounteous, easily washable, and indefinitely reusable. They’re large enough to cover your whole lap or serve as a makeshift bib, and the fabric is soft, much nicer than paper. Sew an extra set for guests, and you’ll never have to buy another package of single-use paper napkins.
Tools & Supplies
Here’s what you’ll need to sew your own cloth napkins:
I try not to impulse buy, and yet I still always have a ton of these on hand–Friends, it’s because I impulse buy. If you’re better at avoiding those big box craft store sales than I am, you can also cut fat quarters from your own larger cuts of fabric. Here are the dimensions.
All you need are scissors, thread, pins, and a sewing machine! If you want to make your quilting fun, you can use a free motion embroidery foot, but you can do this entire project entirely with straight stitches, as well.
1. Pair Up Your Fat Quarters
Iron your fat quarters flat, then put them into pairs. If you’ve got kids whom you’re trying to convince to use cloth napkins, this is a great chance to get their buy-in by letting them choose their own fabrics. Or, you can cut down larger pieces of fabric into fat quarters to make a whole set of matching cloth napkins.
Sometimes I like to pair a novelty print with a plain fabric, giving my cloth napkin a “business” side and a “party” side.
These cotton napkins aren’t terribly prone to staining, although you know your own life best, and if it’s full of barbecue sauce and Kool-Aid, then do yourself a favor and sew your napkins from busy fabric.
If you’ve bought pre-cut fat quarters, they were likely cut in-house by hand, which means that their dimensions can actually differ by quite a lot! Put your paired fat quarters right sides together, then measure and cut to square them off and make them identical.
2. Sew The Pairs Together
Put two fat quarters right sides together, and pin. Chalk or pin an approximately 2″-3″ length in the middle of one side that you won’t sew–this will be the opening that you leave for turning the napkin right-side-out in the next step.
Sew around the perimeter using the seam allowance of your choice. Don’t sew that opening closed, though!
3. Turn The Cloth Napkin Right-Side-Out
Here’s where you’re super glad that you didn’t sew that opening closed! Turn the napkin right-side-out, and use a blunt pencil or a chopstick to push into the corners to make them look tidy–don’t push too hard, though, or you’ll tear the stitches!
Fold the raw edges of the opening in so that they match the seam, and then iron the napkin flat again.
4. Edgestitch And Quilt The Cloth Napkin
Edgestitch around the entire cloth napkin–this makes it look tidy AND neatly closes the opening you used for turning.
Your bobbin thread is VERY prone to “thread barf” when edge stitching; to mitigate this problem, make sure that you’re holding onto the tails of both the top and bottom thread when you start your seam. You might also struggle to get the feed dogs going if you start sewing at a corner; instead, start sewing halfway down one side, and go slowly at the corners.
You want your cloth napkin to keep its shape in the wash. To make sure it will, lightly quilt it by stitching a couple of lines down the middle of the napkin, or from corner to corner.
And now you’re ready for dinner!
After I made this newest set of cloth napkins (and I STILL have some fat quarters left in my stash–yikes!), my family now has ten fat quarter cloth napkins and eight travel-sized cloth napkins for lunch boxes and picnics (here’s how to make those!).
But that doesn’t mean that my family of four washes our cloth napkins after every meal! Did you know that cloth napkins aren’t MEANT to be washed after every use? That’s just one more way that using cloth napkins allows you to use your resources more wisely.
Even if you do choose to wash your cloth napkins after every use, however, you’re still saving trees, money, and plastic packaging from being wasted. These napkins only get softer the more they’re washed, and if they ever get stained or dingy, you can demote them to dishcloth with very little fuss.
And then dip back into your fat quarter stash and make yourself more cloth napkins!